Personal Trainers May Be Ripped, But Are They Getting Ripped Off?

U.S. health clubs are a more than $24 billion industry, but it’s not the fitness trainers that are raking in the dough.

By Laura RiceJanuary 26, 2016 9:11 am,

Regular gym goers know January is the worst. All those people who usually don’t show up crowd into classes and hog the equipment in an effort to meet their New Year resolutions.

But whether you’re a gym rat or an occasional exerciser, you may not realize that personal trainers – the ones with abs you’d pay big money for – don’t usually have equally enviable salaries.

Hannah Williams wears a lot of hats: mom, yoga teacher, musician, consultant. It’s true she’s got it pretty good in that she sets her own hours and teaches prenatal and kid-friendly yoga classes out of her home. But she says it’s not always easy to make it worth the effort in the fitness world.

“Yoga or fitness professionals are always taking private clients as well as their group classes or maybe they go into training teachers,” Williams says.

Williams is making it work pretty well these days, with the help of her husband who has a good-paying tech job. But she says when she first left her full-time job to take the plunge as a fitness instructor – it just didn’t work at all.

“I was teaching eight classes and I wasn’t anywhere near the money obviously that I was making at my full-time job and it was a lot of energy and a lot of work preparing for all of those classes,” Williams says. “I completely melted down and I realized, oh my gosh, my plate is way too full.”

According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, U.S. health clubs are a more than $24 billion industry. But a recent Slate story shows it’s not the fitness trainers that are raking in the dough. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show median pay for fitness trainers is less than $35,000 a year. Slate found most fitness chains pay trainers at an hourly rate – around minimum wage – plus commission. Though clients may pay $60 to $70 per hour for personal training, Slate reports that trainers usually get less than half of that.

Steve Curran co-owns CrossFit WCF in Dripping Springs. Before he decided to go out on his own, he considered personal training at one of the big gyms.

“I just wasn’t enamored with the idea of the wages that they paid,” Curran says. “And then the scrape for the house was pretty big, I thought.”

So now he’s working at his gym before and after his day job as a financial advisor. He had to take a little of his own advice when it came to following his personal fitness dream.

“We looked hard at numbers and what it would take to be reasonably successful,” Curran says, “to try to match income would have been very difficult doing it full-time, unless you really just dive in head first and make that your goal. The process of building the clientele and building a business of that size is really difficult.”

He says they’re happy not to be in the red. But his advice? Don’t get into personal fitness if you’re in it just to make money. “But we sort of all agreed that that’s not why we’re here,” Curran says.

Whether it’s the sound of 180 pounds of weights being dragged across a parking lot or the sound of a sun salutation that’s music to your ears, it seems personal fitness is the kind of job you do because you love it.